1635: THE DREESON INCIDENT – snippet 33:
“I tell you, Veda Mae, I grinned when I looked in the mirror.” Velma gestured dramatically, to draw attention to her nails. She was getting a lot of good, now, from the fact that back up-time she hadn’t been able to walk into a drugstore without buying cosmetics. She still had nail polish. Today, her nails featured an azure undercoat with white tips and a little glitter on each one.
“What do you have to grin about?”
“Just look at me! Jacques-Pierre comes over to the trailer and talks to me for an hour or two at least three or four times a week. He’s giving me ideas that I’m supposed to Meditate on. Mental Enlightenment and Spiritual Comfort. It’s done wonders. I have to admit it.”
“You’re about as able to meditate as… as… an ostrich.”
“I do try to meditate, just like he says. A whole five minutes, twice a day. And to share my new insights. He gives me Themes. For each one of them, I’m supposed to walk around town every day until I’ve talked to at least four people. I’m supposed to Share Words of Enlightened Wisdom.”
“Have people started to run when they see you coming?”
“Well, of course not. I’m supposed to share each Theme with four different people. I don’t bother with that, most of the time. Whenever he gives me a new one, I share it with the receptionist at the Probate Court and the receptionist in Maurice Tito’s office, since I have to go talk to them about Susan’s money and the custody of Susan, anyway. Dropping off papers and things like that.”
“Captive audiences, then. Figures.”
“But I have to do extra walking to find enough people to share the rest of the Themes. By now, I know almost every place in town where I can be sure of finding several all at once. The checkout line at the grocery store. The line for the circulation desk at the public library. I figure that even if I just say it to the person behind the counter, I’ve had shared it with everyone in line. Don’t you think so?”
“More captive audiences.”
“With all the extra walking, I’ve lost four pounds. If the bathroom scale is right, which I can’t guarantee. It’s ancient. Really, having someone who listens to me—really listens—has made so much difference in my life. So I owe you.”
Veda Mae blinked.
“I can see what you were trying to tell me, now. It really does have to be Meant that Jacques-Pierre came to Grantville. He agrees that I ought to have custody of Susan. Or, least, take care of her money. He promised to help me. At least, he nodded his head the other evening, when I said it was Meant to Be.”
“So now I’ll pay even more attention to his other suggestions in regard to Mental Enlightenment and Spiritual Comfort.”
“I bet there isn’t a single soul in Grantville who believes that the only comfort he’s offered you is spiritual.”
“Hell, Veda Mae. I scarcely believe it myself. But let me tell you something, Even if Jean-Pierre isn’t interested, his friend Laurent Mauger definitely is. A girl can tell that kind of thing.”
As soon as Mauger left town again—his comings and goings served more or less as punctuation marks for the sentences that Jacques-Pierre’s experiences in Grantville were writing in the story of his life—it was time to send another report to Henri de Rohan.
Dumais passed on what Mauger brought him in the way of new instructions from de Ron. Exactly and precisely as he had received them. Since de Ron would also be sending a report to the duke, the duke could worry about the question of whether Mauger had manipulated or misinterpreted anything.
In response to a question he had received from the duke himself, Jacques-Pierre confirmed his belief that that Henry Dreeson and his wife Veronica had, during this autumn, become some sort of symbols—icons or “morale builders” as the up-timers described it—of significance beyond the town of Grantville itself. Even beyond the borders of West Virginia County. Possibly even beyond the borders of the State of Thuringia-Franconia. He included things he’d heard various people say about Dreeson’s “your local government in action” tour over in the Fulda and Frankfurt region.
“When are you going back to Magdeburg?” Jacques-Pierre asked. He didn’t mind having a sandwich with Bryant Holloway here at the Willard Hotel in the evenings. The food was awful, true. But otherwise it was more pleasant than the 250 Club. It certainly smelled better.
“Not right away. I guess Steve has some inkling that Stannard and I aren’t the best of pals. He’s sending me over to Frankfurt, on a temporary assignment, to work with the militia on getting fire prevention up to standard there. Actually, even though Frankfurt is Kraut country too, this won’t be bad.”
“In what way?”
“Well, for one thing, it will let me save some money. Nathan Prickett—he’s married to my wife’s sister—is over there, working on getting the city militia used to the new weapons systems that Suhl is delivering to the USE. I can stay with him; not pay rent. I should be back about the middle of December. Before Christmas, anyhow.”
“Ah. This man Prickett. He is your brother-in-law?”
“No. That would be the relationship if he was married to my sister Lola. Or if I had married his sister. I’m not exactly sure myself what you call someone who’s married to your wife’s sister. If you’re interested in finding out, I could introduce you to some of the ladies in the Genealogy Club. They know that sort of stuff.”
“I would appreciate it.” Jacques-Pierre meant that quite sincerely. Whenever he received a new introduction, to find out the answer to some question that he was legitimately asking, it gave him wonderful entree into more of Grantville. From some member of this genealogy club, perhaps he really could come to have a reason to go places like the Bureau of Vital Statistics. With all of its files that were guarded so protectively by the formidable Ms. Jenny Maddox.
“Actually,” Bryant was saying. “Prickett’s mom belongs that club. I’ll introduce you to her. And he might have been my brother-in-law if things had turned out different. He dated Lola for a while, before he started going out with Chandra Jenkins and Lola married Latham Beckworth. Grantville was a pretty small town, after all, before the Ring of Fire. Everybody knew everybody else, just about, and a lot of us are related to each other. He and Lola got into a big fight about politics and broke up. She was pretty much a left wing Democrat and he sure wasn’t. It added a certain something to their relationship. They’d done it three or four times before—fought and broken up. I was sort of surprised when the last time turned out to be permanent.”
“This Beckworth, then, is your brother-in-law.”
“Not any more. They’re divorced and both looking, sort of. They’ve been stuck at that level for five years, though, so I’m not holding my breath that either one of them will get married again. She caught his eyes wandering while she still hadn’t quite gotten her figure back from the second kid. Well, more than his eyes wandering. She caught him and this other gal doing the horizontal tango, ten toes up and ten toes down.”
“She initiated the divorce procedure, then?”
“Damn tootin’. Hell, but she was mad. Called Mom and Dad, who drove over from Clarksburg. Called me—I was working in Fairmont then. Called Latham’s father. It’s got to be humiliating for a woman when her husband goes out and diddles a woman a dozen years older than she is. The stuff she said about Velma, you would hardly believe.”
“Velma?” Jacques-Pierre asked tentatively.
“Velma Hardesty,” Bryant answered. “You know her. I’ve seen you talking to each other.”
“Yes, I do know her. We were introduced by Veda Mae Haggerty.”
“Just like us, huh?” Bryant commented.
Jacques-Pierre nodded. He was thinking that Velma Hardesty could become a liability. More than merely a cause of la migraine. When Mauger got back…
Jacques-Pierre did not particularly like the fat Netherlander, but the man was rich. Certainly rich enough to attract Madame Hardesty. Certainly, if all went well, rich enough to remove her from this town.
That wasn’t part of his assignment, of course. But in some things, a man had to look out for his own welfare. Take the initiative. Much more of Madame Hardesty’s conversation and he would run out into the night, screaming.
Mauger had not tried to lay a hand on Madame Hardesty. When he left town the morning after their introduction, though, she had come to the hotel to tell him good-bye. He had assured her that he would be back in a few weeks.
That was a possibility with some potential. If properly managed, it might even offer some hope.